Tip of Religion


The last day of sixth grade the boy I liked the most, Chris Isola walks up to me with an arrowhead made of obsidian clenched in his freckled hand. He gives me one of his magnanimous grins and hucks that tool into the cleft below my left eye. The damage done, I head to my Grandmother's store in hopes of consolation, or at the very least, an explanation.

My grandmother has had a junk store on Main Street in Sisters, Oregon for twenty five years. She's good friends with the Sheriff, John Long, who really isn't a Sheriff, though twenty years ago he was. Now John Long spends a lot of time at the B-bar-B saloon just next door to Esther's shop. John Long is shorter than I am by three and a half inches. He still wears the straw cowboy hat from his Sheriff days. He likes drinking more than law work. He doesn't like the old tin beer signs we have at the shop. He goes for blue cobalt glass. Who could have imagined?

I think of telling the Sheriff about my afternoon, but I kind of would rather not talk to another man or boy ever again in life, even if justice depends on it.

It's Rodeo weekend and John Long asks if I'll mind his hot-dog cart. It's on wheels, and in the middle of the dirt street. Sometimes it gets interesting: fist-fights, run-aways, barn dances, swinging saloon doors, many discarded beer cans. I look at Esther and she nods.

Free hot dogs is what it means to me. Sauerkraut, stewed tomatoes, onions; condiments worth coveting. John Long says it's the way they do it in Philadelphia, a place he lived for about ten minutes in another life. He winks and admits it gives him the corner on the tube steak market.

Once at the helm I notice the whorling dirt. A series of miniature dust-devils circling and dissipating. They are coming directly for the cart, hungry, dirty, sweating, and serious. Looks to be seven in the bunch. Bikers. The one out front's heavier. His long, stringy gray hair is barely captured by a fracturing pink rubber band. His belly touches the front of my cart. "Give us a dog," he says. "How many?" I ask, already starting the first couple of buns. "One each," he says as I count them up. I'm not bad for a first timer.

The buns are out, and the dogs are in. "Onions?" I ask. "Catsup?" "Mustard?" I ask, and then it happens. I pick up the plastic Mustard container. It's almost empty. With such a small amount of mustard inside it's going to make the noise. I know it will. The farting noise. I dread the action of squeezing. My face heats up. I'm sure it shows. I squeeze. My face becomes a griddle on which I could do up eggs, and sausages. Now I get uncomfortable. I get pissed. I'm pissed that these bikers have made me red-faced. I have been told about bikers, and their bestial mis-deeds.

"So," I start in, mustard bottle in my hand like a second fist, "I hear you guys terrorize women. Is that true?" I ask, looking directly into his narrowing green peepers. My stare sparks the mind behind those eyes. He cocks his head to the left, itches behind a carbuncled ear and attempts to clarify things for me. "No. Listen, here's how it is: let's say that you were a grown woman and you and I went over to the dance they got going in the Grange Hall tonight, then let's say after dancing all night you jump on the back of my bike and head back to our camp at the lake, we unzip the tent and crawl right in. (pause) You can't change your mind."

The mustard's gone and so is my patience. I make up the difference in mayonnaise, explaining that the Scandinavians won't eat a dog without the stuff. You wouldn't believe how many bikers claim to be of Scandinavian descent. Perhaps this would explain the predilection for braids. They pay me for the dogs and eat them in front of me, waiting for a response from me. I don't give them one right away. I'm thinking of the Vikings, their history, the calves I've seen in the history books.

"I think I understand what you're telling me." I finally say.

I see Sheriff stumbling from the B-bar-B into Esther's shop. He waves me over. "That's the boss," I say, backing the cart on to hind wheels. "Have to go," I tell them. "Listen, what's your name?" the big guy asks. I tell him. "Alice Marie," he says, "here's my card. Don't ever lose it. If anyone ever bothers you, anyone at all, ever, in your life, call the number there. I'll take care of it for you, whatever it is." He had, had himself ordained a minister of a biker church. It said so right on the card. I pocket the thing, wiping the catsup off of his address.

Once back at Esther's shop I pull out the card, and tap it on the Formica table. I'm smiling like the devil, and my grandmother is smiling back at me. Chris Isola has no idea what is coming. No idea at all. But I do.